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While Thanksgiving celebrates the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock, far less attention is paid to their welcoming party: the Native Americans who had been living here for millennia. “America was populated with indigenous people long before the Jamestown colony and the Pilgrims came to this land,” says Cecile Ganteaume, an associate curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. She shares some places to learn about the original Americans with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Spiro Mounds, Okla.

People were still living near this extensive city and ceremonial complex when Spanish explorers first came through the region hundreds of years ago. The area includes 12 mounds, an elite village area and a surrounding settlement, but it’s most famous for the artifacts discovered there. “It has yielded stupendously beautiful pottery, mica and copper, which historians have been studying for decades,” Ganteaume says.

Mashantucket Pequot Museum
Mashantucket, Conn.

The thriving American Indian culture that greeted the Pilgrims has long since disappeared. But this huge site, which calls itself the world’s largest Native American museum, includes a re-created village depicting life before and after European contact. Located at the Foxwoods Resort Casino, it includes artifacts, along with sensory displays, videos and interactive programs. “There’s nothing like this in the Northeast,” Ganteaume says. The museum closes Dec. 2 for the winter and reopens in the spring.

Mesa Verde, Colo.

For more than 700 years, thousands of people lived in cliff dwellings in southwest Colorado, including one structure with more than 140 rooms. Today visitors can tour these ancient high-rises and learn about their culture, which was supported by growing corn and other crops in nearby fields.

Museum of the Plains Indian
Blackfoot Reservation, Browning, Mont.

Although located on the Blackfoot Reservation, this museum is one of the best places in the world to see artifacts from all the Plains Indians, including the Crow, Sioux, Nez Perce and many…